In November 2020, my mother became ill and was hospitalized with a severe infection. Infections in the elderly can cause severe delirium, which is an abrupt change in the brain that causes mental confusion.

Viewpoints from Sheila Bannister

After several days of antibiotic treatment, the hospital recommended discharging Mom to a skilled nursing facility for physical rehabilitation.

Because COVID-19 infection rates were remarkably high at the time, my family, like countless others, made the tough decision to care for our loved one at home. We didn’t feel as though Mom would be safe alone, so we coordinated around-the-clock care among several family members. All of a sudden, my siblings and I added “caregiver to an elderly parent” to our busy lives as employees, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Grief, anger, sadness, frustration, loss, desperation, exasperation. All the feels. Sometimes all at once. Stress; always stress. An estimated 45% of the workforce is facing similar challenges with caring for aging parents based on a 2019 report.

The mental fatigue from managing appointments and sorting through financial and insurance documents left me exhausted. The thought of cooking healthy meals and exercising? They were just more to-dos that I felt I couldn’t manage. As a health promotion professional, I felt like a fraud.

About five months in, I realized that if I did not begin making self-care a priority, I would eventually leave a similar legacy for my kids and grandkids and the thought broke my heart.

While it is not easy for me to put myself first, I joined a fitness center and carved out time twice a week to work with a trainer, committed to walking a few times a week and met with a dietician. I now attend a chair yoga class once a week, because sometimes all you need is someone to remind you how to breathe.

Supporting such a large population of your caregiving workforce in keeping healthy is a must for benefits programs. Consider adding some of these beneficial offerings:
  • Dedicated caregiver time off – for those with paid time off (PTO), time off to care for a loved one that would not eat into vacation More than 60% of working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties requiring them to rearrange work schedules, cut back on hours or take unpaid leave to provide care, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving
  • Medicare navigation expert – employees need a resource to teach them the ins and out of Medicare plans. We could not get Mom into the facility we wanted because it was out of her network. Had I known more about Medicare options at the time, I could have helped her chose the right plan prior to needing the kind of care she did. Helping us middle-agers help our parents is a real need
  • Medicaid eligibility expert – consider a service that would teach what to do and not do if you think your elderly parent may need to qualify for a Medicaid waiver
  • Affordable long-term care options – this experience has me thinking I need to elect long-term care insurance for myself. Consider offering it as an ancillary product to purchase through payroll deductions
As I write this, Mom is in a skilled nursing facility for physical rehabilitation following another hospitalization.

Thankfully, COVID-19 rates have fallen considerably and we considered it a safe environment for her to recuperate. When I resume my caregiver responsibilities, I’ll do so knowing that I am not only taking good care of Mom, but also taking good care of me.

Our Wellness & Health Management team works seamlessly as part of our Employee Benefits consulting team to provide these important resources for your workforce.

 


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EPIC offers these opinions for general information only. EPIC does not intend this material to be, nor may any person receiving this information construe or rely on this material as, tax or legal advice. The matters addressed in this article and any related discussions or correspondence should be reviewed and discussed with legal counsel prior to acting or relying on these materials.

 

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Sheila Bannister

Wellness & Health Director, EPIC Midwest – Indianapolis, IN